By Lauren Bus
*Names have been omitted to protect the privacy of the participants*
Too often, individuals pride themselves on how busy their lives are, filling their time with jobs and duties to family and friends. Rarely do most people stop to think about filling their own cup, only pouring themselves out to please others. Self-care isn’t selfish.
Nearly 20 women from Lambton Circles spent a sunny June weekend reflecting on this statement, as they took time to consider themselves and their own needs at the second annual “Woman’s Worth Wellness Retreat”, hosted on the shores of Lake Huron at a secluded beachfront home. "Circles" is a local and national level initiative that supports individuals break out of the cycle of poverty. These women, known as Circles Leaders are committed to plans of change leading to full self-sufficiency and a better life.
Local health and wellness practitioners volunteered their services throughout the weekend, granting the women access to massages, yoga practices, workshops about the use of essential oils and creating cost-effective spa treatments at home, one-on-one sessions with social workers and life coaches as well as an opportunity to participate in art therapy or to spend time journaling and reflecting.
These retreats are held in honour of late local activist Thea DeGroot, a long-time champion of Circles Canada and a worthy woman in her own right. Thea passed away at the age of 69 in 2018 following a hard-fought battle with pancreatic cancer.
“Through the compassion, generosity, love, and caring community, the Lambton Circles women lives were powerfully changed during this wonderful wellness retreat,” said Kim Godin, Circles Coordinator. “Thea's beautiful spirit and heart for people lives on through the actions of her amazing friends."
The women arrived at the beach house to aromatic candles and sun shining through open windows. Participants who were returning from last year pointed out that they were excited to be able to take advantage of the beach this year, rather than being curled up by the fireplace on an uncharacteristically chilly July weekend as they had the year before.
During orientation, it was clear that each woman came to the retreat with her own story, her own experiences that brought her to Circles and many were open to sharing their stories with the group. Some women expressed that they had lacked trust in others, but that Circles had helped them to begin to heal. Many hoped that the retreat would continue that for them.
Tasha was a participant last year and returned as a facilitator this year, offering a workshop on affordable, at-home spa services. As a Circles Leader, she explained that affordability and cost effectiveness are some of her biggest concerns when it comes to self-care. Her homemade sugar scrubs are inexpensive and give her an opportunity to teach her daughter that self-care doesn’t have to equal costly services.
“Everything in my life changed when I learned at last year’s retreat to stop competing with women and feeling jealous of them, but rather loving, supporting and embracing one another,” Tasha said. “This year, coming back, I felt an energy in the house as we all worked on living that philosophy and the ability to bond and build such intimate relationships was like a spiritual charge that you can’t even put into words.”
For some, the retreat was about disconnecting from the demands of the “real world” — finding solace on the shores of Lake Huron. And for others, the focus was on connecting with each other, finding support with people who share some lived experiences, or finding ways to support each other through individual journeys.
Throughout the weekend and during different services, the women found ways to connect with each other, with nature, and with themselves. Many women mentioned how self-care was never something they prioritized, or even really thought about prior to the weekend. Many told stories about how drained they let themselves get, or that they didn’t feel like themselves anymore. Most mentioned how they had struggled with various hardships, during which simply making it through the day felt like a win. But heard throughout the beach house for the duration of the weekend was how the retreat made them feel whole, beautiful, and worthy.
While Thea DeGroot was known for her varied commitments to social advocacy, she was also known for the colourful scarves she wore. For the retreat, her husband Art and their children gifted the women with Thea’s scarves. Each woman was able to choose a scarf that spoke to them as a symbol of the weekend and as a physical embodiment of everything that Thea stood for. It was as if Thea herself was reaching out and hugging each woman as they wrapped the scarves around themselves, carrying on her legacy.
Understanding that self-care isn’t selfish takes time. Learning to prioritize yourself is a difficult concept to come to terms with, especially when it’s engrained to put others first. “A Woman’s Worth Wellness Retreat” works to actively teach women that they are worthy of self-care, that they deserve to take time for themselves to make sure that they have the mental and physical capacity to help those that rely on them. Most importantly, the wellness retreat teaches women about sisterhood, about building trusting relationships with each other and with individuals who have had different lived experiences than their own. It shows women, participants and practitioners alike, that you don’t have to stand alone through times of trouble, that you can stand together with your sisters and, if even for a weekend, that self-care and mindfulness can be your most powerful tool.
A special thanks to all facilitators:
Sheila Ward, Retreat Co-ordinator and Cook
Joan Ross, Beach House Owner and Art Therapy
Ann Bending, Yoga Instructor
Becky Beach, Yoga Instructor
Monika Minnema, Essential Oils Expert
Tasha Barwise, Self-care Workshop Facilitator
Jessica Mayer-Denis, Registered Massage Therapist
Alyssa Fielder, Registered Massage Therapist
Mika Wells, Registered Massage Therapist
Jenni Jenkins, Registered Social Worker
Michelle Nelson, Mental Health Therapist
Ciara Ross, Prevention Worker
Deborah Fox, Health Coach
Manjiri Nadkarni, Ayurvedic Doctor
Nancy Michieli, Life Coach
Stephanie Kerlovich, Art Therapy
Mike Blackmore, Musician
A special thanks to all sponsors:
Taproots Green Gardens
Bright’s Grove Foodland
Susan Chamberlain, The Book Keeper
And finally, a very special thank you to the Circles Leaders and Circles staff who opened themselves up to a weekend of self-care and self-love. To learn more about Circles, please visit www.circlescanada.com